Popular Mechanics (USA)
The New Army Cannon That Shoots 1,150 Miles
THE U.S. ARMY IS WORKING ON A NEW, long-range cannon it claims can reach out and strike targets at up to 1,150 miles— about 1,130 miles farther than existing guns. But the Strategic Long Range Cannon (SLRC) also has the potential to bring back a dormant class of big-gun warships once thought gone for good: the mighty battleship.
The Army hasn’t yet explained how the SLRC will reach the extraordinary range, but it seems confident the gun will work as planned, aiming to test a prototype in 2023. The service sees the weapon as a towed gun pulled by a heavy truck, using its range to blast a hole in enemy air and sea defenses big enough for U.S. forces to squeeze through. But the SLRC faces limitations as a wholly land-based system. Countries like the Philippines, Germany, Norway, and Japan would have to grant the Army permission to locate the weapon on their soil, and the truck-based SLRC would be restricted to paved roads. Just getting the gun to the battlefield would require nearby airfields, secure airspace, and enough Air Force transports to lug the big guns around. The solution: Base at least some of the cannons on ships.
A single ship could carry abroad the entire fourgun battery that the Army envisioned for deploying SLRC, plus shells to keep the guns firing. A warship could relocate the guns at sea without asking anyone for permission, and would be more difficult for enemy forces to target. It would also have greater flexibility, deploying into areas where local allies might not be willing to host big guns.
Sound familiar? In 1940, most of the major world powers maintained fleets of battleships— those large, heavily armored warships carrying between eight and 12 guns, all between 12 and 18 inches in diameter. They were meant to be the decisive arm of naval warfare, engaging the enemy fleet in a series of battles that would decide the war at sea. But by July 1942, the destruction of the German battleship Bismarck, the sinking of the Royal Navy battlewagons Prince of Wales and Repulse, and the Battle of Midway all proved the superiority of aircraft over the sea-based guns of
the battleship. Battleships left shipyards for good in 1944, and despite occasional returns to service, the class is considered obsolete.
The last battleships built for the U.S. Navy, the Iowa class, had a powerful battery of nine 16-inch Mark 7 guns, but could only hit targets a maximum distance of 23.6 miles. The Iowa was also, with the exception of a pair of seaplanes, comparatively blind and incapable of locating enemy ships at ranges greater than the horizon. An aircraft carrier could fan out its airplanes hundreds of miles in all directions searching for an enemy battle fleet. Once that was identified, it could then send its planes out to attack from the air in a devastating strike.
The Navy could base the SLRC on a new class of battleships. (Let’s call it the Montana class, after the class of battleships that were planned, but never built.) Instead of the big, beefy battleships of old, the Montana class might well be stealthy, like the Zumwalt-class ships, retracting the gun barrels within the ship’s deck when not in use. A heavy belt of armor probably wouldn’t be necessary, as the Montana wouldn’t engage in the sort of titanic ship-vs.-ship battleship duels of the early 20th century. Alternatively, the Navy could choose to put the guns on cheaper commercial hulls, like the Mercy-class hospital ships.
A Montana-class ship might carry four SLRC cannons in two turrets of two cannons each. It could carry Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles and Phalanx close-in weapon systems for self-defense, but would otherwise rely on cruiser and destroyer escorts—and sheer distance—for protection. Although the ship would want to reserve as much internal volume as possible for cannon ammunition, the Navy could find the room for a few missile silos, each carrying a Tomahawk land attack cruise missile. That might allow the Montana class to conduct missile and gun attacks at the same time, complicating the enemy’s defense plan.
The irony of a new type of battleship is that the very weapon—big guns—that made it obsolete in the face of aircraft could put it back at the top of the heap again. In 1943, a battleship could only strike targets at a maximum range of 20 nautical miles, while the carrier could strike at up to 872 miles. Now, a battleship could reach up to 1,000 nautical miles while the F-35C, the seagoing version of the Joint Strike Fighter, has a combat radius between 630 and 740 miles.
Could the battleship once again become a major surface warship? If the SLRC actually works, it’s possible. If the first test shot in 2023 is successful, it will be the Pentagon’s advantage to examine alternate deployment scenarios. And if not? Well, no one counted on the battleship returning to service anyway.